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On a Tank of Gas: Sandia Mountains

On a Tank of Gas: Sandia Mountains

Let's Explore One of New Mexico's Most Breathtaking Features

By Moriah Carty

It’s easy to take for granted the beauty of the Sandia Mountains, so let’s spend the day exploring this breathtaking natural marvel.

But first, since breakfast is the most important meal of the day, let’s start with delicious, local nosh before our big (small) adventure.

Head east on I-40 and turn north off onto NM 14 toward Cedar Crest.  After three and a half miles,

breakfast will be on your right.


Albuquerque to Turquoise Trail Bakery: 19 miles

View from the top of Sandia Peak   Turquoise Trail Bakery is a locally owned bakery situated just off the highway, tucked between other local shops. All goods are made in house and change from day to day.

Guzzle down the coffee and snag some extra pastries for the hike later.


Turquoise Trail Bakery to Sandia: 16 miles

The drive up to the crest is one of the most beautiful, scenic drives in New Mexico. The absence of development makes it hard to believe the state’s largest city lies on the opposite side.

The road winds up, the turns becoming ever tighter as you near the top. Once there, it’s time to saddle up for a quick hike. Don’t forget the mouthwatering pastries.

Stop by the lookout first and take in the valley below: Albuquerque and surrounding areas. It’s certainly breathtaking. Afterward, sneak around the east side of the building and connect with the nature trail.


From crest to aerial tram: about 4 miles round trip

Aerial Tram in Albuquerque   The trail hugs the edge of the cliffs most of the way. This trail is fairly easy and well worn, but make sure to follow the maps and stay on the trail. At this elevation, the weather can turn quickly, so pack accordingly.

Follow the nature trail from the crest to Kiwanis Cabin, a shelter built for rangers to stay overnight. Continue on the trail south, and you’ll find yourself at the top of the Sandia Ski Resort.

The Sandia Tram is advertised as the world’s longest tram [technically, it’s not], and in spring 2016 the tram cars were remodeled. Definitely worth the ride if the opportunity presents itself.

Along the trail are various types of flowers and undergrowth, starkly contrasting the high desert ecosystem below. If the weather is just right, picturesque moments are abundant.

Snag any last-minute photos on the hike back.


Sandia Crest to Albuquerque via scenic NM 165: 45 miles 

The day is mostly over, so it’s time to take the scenic route home. As you head back down the mountain turn right onto NM 165.

This dirt road can be a bit treacherous at times, but is manageable in a high-clearance sedan.

Palomas Peak is visible to the east as you weave down and around the mountain. The Las Huertas Picnic Ground is a nice stop for another snack break.

Eventually, the road becomes pavement and it’s back to civilization. Take an opportunity to look north and see the beautiful plateaus in the distance.

Hop on I-25 south and head home.


Stops: 4; Miles: 80


Moriah Carty is an Albuquerque local with a heavy sense of wanderlust.

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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